2008 Audi A5 and S5

Tim Andrew

Chaos reigns. It's Sunday afternoon on the roads east of Verona in the north of Italy. Muddied four-by-fours lean drunkenly around the tight curves on these high hills. Dense packs of sport bikes fizz past in 13,000-rpm eruptions, diving onto their forks as yet another short straight comes to an abrupt end. Our Audi fills their mirrors until, finally, they wave us past.

As a means of dealing with congested Italian roads, the S5 coupe is hard to beat. A 350-hp V-8 coupled with Quattro all-wheel drive lets us get on the power ludicrously early coming out of corners. And as for straight-line performance, it's headline-grabbing stuff: 0 to 60 mph in about 5.0 seconds, with a top speed electronically limited to 155 mph, according to Audi.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Audi chose the S5 as the launch model for its new A5 coupe range. The S5 goes on sale here in November and will be joined three months later by a tamer 265-hp, 3.2-liter FSI V-6 model. Prices have yet to be finalized; Audi will say only that the S5 will be priced in excess of $55,000, and the 3.2 will top the $40,000 mark.

Well, the A5 certainly looks expensive. Volkswagen Group design boss Walter de'Silva says the A5 is the most beautiful car he's ever styled. It combines Audi's geometrically muscular stance with a dash of Latin whimsy in the form of an undulating character line on the body sides. There are some fantastic details, too, such as the LED daytime running lights that give the A5 an instantly recognizable face (BMW has pulled off much the same trick with its "angel eyes" headlamp surrounds). The A5's headlights also have beautifully sculpted surfaces.

Regardless of how you feel about de'Silva's visual treatment--and I'm not a huge fan--there's plenty more under the A5's skin to talk about. In order to reduce the front overhang, the front differential is repositioned ahead of the clutch, which allows for a longer wheelbase (four inches longer than the current A4's). On that note, the A5 is also significant in that its architecture will underpin the A4 replacement, bringing the benefits of better weight distribution and a longer wheelbase to that model.

In pursuit of better dynamics, the A5's steering rack is situated lower down, closer to the wheel centers. Shorter steering arms and fewer joints aim to improve steering feel and provide more agile responses.

All of that said, the S5 is not a sport coupe in the BMW 3-series mold. It's a very effective means of covering ground at high velocities, but it just isn't very involving to drive. Carry a bit too much speed into a tight corner and the default mode is understeer, and there's little point in trying to use the throttle to adjust the cornering attitude.

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